By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – With the 2014 NFL draft just hours away, most of the research, evaluation and discussion that will influence who the Detroit Lions select with their first-round pick has already taken place. Now the Lions just have to trust their process, and that is something team president Tom Lewand is completely comfortable doing.
“We really trust our process, and the process is what leads to the board, and I think the amount of work that’s gone into it, the amount of conversations, it really not only helps us develop the board but get a better understanding of our new coaching staff, how we want to use things, what pieces they see as important, how that matches up to what’s available in the draft, and feel very comfortable that we can trust that board as the evening unfolds,” Lewand said Thursday morning outside Ford Field.
Lewand left open all possibilities as far as what positions the Lions will choose, and no matter whom the teams picking before Detroit select, Lewand seemed at ease that the Lions would add some influential players.
“We could look at anything, and that’s what I think is the beauty of the draft,” Lewand said. “It’s the way we’ve always tried to approach it under [general manager] Martin [Mayhew]’s stewardship is that we want to have the right player who’s the right fit for us, and we certainly know from all the work that’s been done to date that we’re going to find that right combination because there’s not just any one magic person. There’s a number of talented players, not just in the first round but throughout the draft, who are going to fit that equation.”
The Lions have talked extensively about having a one-year plan for success, a focus on winning not just down the road but this season. Lewand fully expects that the players Detroit picks Thursday will fit into that vision and will be able to contribute immediately.
“I think in today’s NFL you get great contributions from rookies right away,” Lewand said. “We saw it last year with [defensive end] Ziggy Ansah, who came in and had a very productive year for us, [guard] Larry Warford, who we took in the third round who started every game for us and was one of the best offensive lineman in the league, not just as a rookie. So I think you can get a lot of value from draft choices right away, and I think we’ve seen that over time.
“To look at the draft as an opportunity to get better now, I think Coach [Jim] Caldwell said it really well during our first team meeting,” Lewand continued. “‘These rookies that we add are our teammates. They’re not rookies. They are teammates. They are guys who expect to contribute right away.’ Whether that’s on special teams, whether it’s as a starter, they can certainly add value, and that’s what we’re looking to accomplish this weekend.”
For all NFL teams, deciding which players to pick – or which ones to move up or down to pursue – is an exhaustive process. Lewand provided some insight into just how many people contribute to the final board that will guide the Lions on Thursday night.
“As an example, when we go down to the NFL combine in February, we take over 60 people down to the combine, between coaches and doctors and trainers and scouts,” Lewand said. “At some point, each of those people is involved in the process, and then some more. When you start talking about people who do a lot of research for us, do a lot of the background, it’s well over 100 people who get involved at one stage or another throughout the draft.
“It’s important to take all of those opinions, all of that work that those 100-plus people do and distill it down to our board that then comes off as we hope it will tonight,” Lewand added, “but we know that no matter how it comes off, we’re going to end up with a really good player as a result of a really fine process.”
As one can imagine, the sheer volume of information could get overwhelming and certainly hard to organize. The database that Mayhew mentioned Monday as one of the key ways the team has evolved its draft process is central to how the Lions process all the information to utilize it most effectively.
“When you’re talking about the amount of information that 100-plus people can generate, from medical information to character information to performance information, [it’s] getting the ability to capture all of that and to process it in a way that it is easily understood and digested by those who need to look at it in various ways, shapes or fashions – so that might be coaches, it might be our general manager, it might be different scouts,” Lewand said. “I think it’s a great system, and the best part about it is it’s ours, and we have the people on staff who can continue to develop it and customize it to our needs so our information really becomes our asset.”
With months of draft hype leading up to Thursday, Lewand is just happy to see the season getting closer.
“It’s exciting that we’re playing football,” Lewand said with a smile. “We get to add some fine players this weekend, we’ll get them in here pretty quickly, we’ll have a rookie mini-camp next weekend, so I’m excited about playing football. I’m excited about seeing those guys come together as a team. We’ve seen a little bit of it so far, but we know we’ll add some key pieces this weekend, and then into next week as we add some more rookies. So as they all come together as a team, that’s when it starts to get real exciting for us.”